Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’

Blackpaint 461- Pablo and Francis, Will and George and Gustav

September 7, 2014

Bacon and Picasso

It occurred to me while looking at Picasso in Tate Modern that the shapes of some of Bacon’s nudes are very much like those of Picasso – that is, you could paint out the flesh in the Bacons and substitute a matt cream, or light green or blue and you’d have a Picasso.. sort of…  Take a look below, to see what I mean:

bacon nude 1

picasso nude 1


bacon nude 3



0picasso nude 2


You could “Picasso” the Bacons and “Bacon” the Picassos, so to speak.  So what? you might ask – and you’d be right.  Incidentally, if you Google “Bacon Nudes”, the selection of pictures you get is much more varied and interesting than “Picasso Nudes”…

Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds (BBC4)

I watched the James Fox prog on Vienna last night (on Catch Up); he mentioned the high suicide rate amongst young Viennese intellectuals in the pre-WW1 years – the programme centred on the year 1908 – which reminded me of the recent RA exhibition “Making Faces”, on the same place and general period.  Neither the exhibition, as I recall it, nor Fox, offered any explanation of this phenomenon, however.

One picture that cropped up in the Fox programme was the stupendous Klimt below:

klimt 2

Portrait of Fritza Riedler, Gustav Klimt

Will Self on Orwell

I have to say I think Self is right about Orwell’s rules on good writing; they are ridiculously restrictive and would exclude Joyce, Woolf and DH Lawrence for a start.  Probably Self too, but I haven’t read anything of his, apart from a couple of articles in the Observer; I can’t be bothered to be looking up every tenth word.  Is Orwell’s writing “mediocre”?  Surely not; he’s always a positive pleasure to read (except for the Goldstein document in Nineteen Eighty-Four and a couple of other stretches of politics, in “Homage to Catalonia” for instance) and even where there are weaknesses, they don’t strike you while you are reading.  For my money, “Burmese Days” and “Coming up for Air” are excellent,”A Clergyman’s Daughter” and “Aspidistra” are at least very good, with brilliant bits (the hop picking in “Daughter”, for instance).  “Animal Farm” is just about perfect as allegory, notwithstanding TS Eliot’s remarks about the pigs; and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a tightly written, thrilling and absorbing novel, quite apart from its importance as a critique of totalitarianism.  I’ve read it three or four times, like all of Orwell’s published novels and essays, and still found it gripping.  I can’t say that for any other writers, except Joyce.

I referred to “Homage to Catalonia” – there’s a point in that book where Orwell says he’s about to launch into a chapter on the details of Spanish politics and tells the reader that he can skip to the next chapter if he wishes, without loss of continuity.  I realised with amusement that I read a similar directive years ago – in “The Ka of Gifford Hillary”, a supernatural thriller set in WW2, by Dennis Wheatley.  Wheatley does a 40 -or -so page  detour into the world of British Intelligence, telling the reader, like Orwell, to skip.  I think their politics differed more than slightly, however.

Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967)

I watched this again, over a couple of late nights, and I have to say, like Ken Russell’s “Women in Love”, it’s just about perfect; the cast (Stamp, Bates, Christie, Finch), location, adaptation, music, that staggering Dick Turpin performance in the circus ring…




Derby Ram







Blackpaint 452 – Folk Art, Song and Flowers of the Field

June 26, 2014

British Folk Art, at Tate Britain  

Now I have my membership card, I’m trying to make it pay for itself in a few weeks – so, back to Folk Art and Kenneth Clark again.  I didn’t mention Walter Greaves, the painter who Whistler discovered and apparently turned into a version of himself (see the result on display).  Before the Whistlerisation, Greaves had painted a picture of Hammersmith Bridge, with every precarious foot-or bum-hold occupied by a foot (or bum), watching the passage of the Boat Race crews on the river below.  Could it really be accurate?

Hammersmith Bridge on Boat-race Day c.1862 by Walter Greaves 1846-1930


Then, there is a dark brownish landscape with distorted trees and maybe horses, that’s just like some of the Ben Nicholsons at Dulwich, that I covered a blog or two ago.  There’s a field full of angry bulls in another picture and immense pigs in yet another.  I see my memory played me tricks when I described a couple of other things: the man taking a crap behind the tree is being stalked by men with muskets, not a pack of dogs as I said – and the elegant figurehead is wearing a brown, not blue hat.

Other new stuff at Tate B

Not new of course, but newly out of storage – or new to me, anyway:

Two great, sombre Bombergs – “Bomb Store” I believe.  Reminded me of Rouault.

There’s a whole room of Alan Davie, who died a few weeks ago.  Best pictures are “Fish God” (see previous blog, “Shark Penis of the Fish God”) and “Sacrifice”, a rough, dirty tangle on a great blue ground.

alan davie

That “Fauvist” portrait of a woman is by Fergusson, one of the Scottish Colourists – get the little book of SC postcards.


There’s a beautiful bowl somewhere, by William Nicholson, Ben’s father.

And there’s that brilliantly coloured abstract in the same room as the Basil Beattie, which looks really crude close up – but absolutely beautiful from across the room.  Can’t remember the name – sounds North African to me – so can’t find a photo, but you will know what I mean when you see it.

Nineteen Eighty -Four

I’ve just got to the bit where Winston reads Goldstein’s book.  In it, Goldstein relates how the permanent state of war existing between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia has had the effect of stabilising their economies by burning off surplus capital that would otherwise lead to crises of overproduction.  this seems just a whisker away from the “permanent arms economy” described – not sure if its his original idea – by Michael Kidron, in his old Pelican(?) paperback, “Western Capitalism Since the War”.  He’s writing about the Cold War and the constant renewal of military hardware, but still, pretty close.  Years since I read the Kidron and I’ve lost my copy, so maybe he mentions Orwell.

Flowers of the Field (to 13th July)

A  play by Kevin Mandry at the White Bear pub theatre in Kennington; it fits nicely with the British Folk Art exhibition, where the DVD, made by the British film Institute, entitled “Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow” is on sale.  The play, set in 1916,  concerns the efforts of a war-damaged British officer to collect folk songs in rural Sussex; he inadvertently walks into a drama to do with the ownership of a farm and the efforts of a young girl to avoid  forced marriage to a rapacious landowner.  The difficulties faced by the officer in getting the locals to come up with the real goods, as opposed to hymns, old music hall songs and ballads, make for some very funny scenes and echo real problems faced by the early collectors, like Cecil Sharp and Percy Grainger.

The second half is darker, concerned as it is with the question of the farm and the marriage.  The song which the officer eventually succeeds in recording, is a southern version of “I Once Loved a Lass”.  This is a Scottish variation, recorded among others by Sandy Denny.  Words different, but similar; tune pretty much the same in both versions.

I saw my love to the church go,

With brides and brides’ maidens, she made a fine show,

And I followed on with a heart full of woe,

For she’s gone to be wed to another.

As for the DVD, the High Spens Sword Dance group and the Britannia Coconut Dancers (not blacked up here) have to be seen.

Il Bidone

Fellini’s great film about con men in 50’s Italy, starring the monumental Broderick Crawford (he looked almost the same throughout his career, give or take a few white hairs).  Apparently Fellini used him for his presence – he didn’t act much, just did himself, according to the commentary.  I think he was effective across a fair range though – menace, dignity, vulnerability, pathos, cynicism – and he could really wear a big, shapeless suit.  The music, inevitably by Nino Rota, is very reminiscent of “Blackadder”.



Lizard Reunion




Blackpaint 442 – Barlow’s Faulty Towers, That Ad, Adrian and George

April 15, 2014

Phyllida Barlow; “Dock” at Tate Britain

There seems to be a lot of destruction about at Tate Britain lately; “Ruin Lust”, the present exhibition, for example, and the recent one on iconoclasm, ranging from Reformation church smashing to the Suffragettes, the IRA and Action artists.


At first sight, Barlow’s work seems to fit in with this; as you come into the hall, the first thing you see is a collapsed heap of planks, beams and general rubble which looks as if it has just crashed to the ground.  In fact, the work seems to me to consist of 7 or 8 “units”, one of which is the collapsed heap; the others are:

  • a tower of beams from which a giant cardboard (?) roll or drum hangs;
  • another tower, topped by a bulging, squirming mass of ropes, stuffed bin bags, trunking and debris, threatening to topple over;
  • a sort of pyramidal  structure of interlocking, wooden or metal bench-like forms, one face of which is covered with painted panels in Guston colours (these panels face you through the arch from Caro’s red metal sculpture and are really effective from this view – try it);


  • a tubular tower, a sort of Trajan’s Column of cardboard rolls, stuck together with brightly coloured crime-scene tape (shades of Isa Gensken);
  • another big erection of beams from which are suspended a number of huge boxes or trunks, great holes smashed in them, round the mouths of which, a polystyrene foam bubbles;
  • hanging from the ceiling, a strange, white, branching, basket-like structure a bit like Sarah Lucas’s stuffed sculptures or maybe a giant representation of a cell structure, like something that might hang above the escalator in the Science Museum.  Hanging from this, I think, three giant, unvarnished, wooden shield shapes.  I find these, the basket and the shields, to be a false note, not fitting with the rest of the installation.

So at second sight, not about destruction at all; more about things in flux, a process of becoming rather than being “complete” like the other works in the gallery.

I wondered about how she built it; she’s in her 70s, after all.  Obviously there was a team and machinery, but you somehow think things on this scale require a young, vigorous, ambitious, (reckless?) mind.  Did she do drawings?  Maybe it was more general idea and materials and then standing watching, shouting instructions: sort of “Bit more to left – hold it there, that’s good…. Now, tumble those ropes out a bit more…”   And how are these things commissioned?  does Tate have a list of artists it goes to, or do the artists approach the galleries with ideas?  This would apply to the Turbine Hall at TM too, of course.

Next time, “Ruin Lust” and the fantastic Richard Deacon exhibition.

Doreen Lawrence in the M&S advert

I think the presence of Baroness Lawrence in the M&S advert is problematic.  The company benefits from the association with someone like her, who has justly acquired a sort of proto-Mandela status, beyond criticism; there’s probably no payment involved, or she will be donating the money to a worthy cause – still, M&S is in the business of flogging clothes and will get increased profits, I expect.  Is it no different from Olympians advertising banks, or the Royals granting charters to private firms?  as far as I can see, there has been no criticism in the press of the ad, so maybe I’m out of step.  Those people who want the Baroness to stand as Labour candidate for Mayor of London will be wanting some of the same magic; someone beyond criticism to carry the flag.  What a coup that would be.

Sue Townsend


Adrian Mole is one of the great comic characters of English literature, alongside Pooter, another noted diarist; I was surprised, however, to come across, in Sunday’s Observer, an extract from Townsend’s book “Mr.Bevan’s Dream”, about trying to get an emergency benefit payment.  What surprised me was how gripping it was, how angry it made me and yet how fair and even-handed were her comments.  Who did it remind me of?  Ah yes, Orwell – and unlike George –  no criticism intended – Townsend wasn’t down there on a visit.

 Orwell, the Musical


Just been reading that Orwell’s newly published “Road to Wigan Pier” was delivered to him in the trenches where he was fighting with the Trotskyist POUM militia in the Spanish Civil War; surely it’s time somebody wrote “Orwell, the Musical” – Eton, Burma, the Hanging, Shooting an Elephant, dish-washing in Paris, tramping in London and the hopfields of Kent, Wigan Pier, fighting, wounded and fleeing for his life in Spain, the war commentaries and diary, Animal Farm, Jura, nearly drowning in the whirlpool, Nineteen Eighty-Four- must be enough here for loads of great stage-sets and les Mis-type anthems.  Come on, Lloyd-Webber and Cameron Mackintosh!


 Heaven Only Knows



Blackpaint 439 – Michelangelo, the Saints and the Black Snake Moan

March 27, 2014

Last Week in Rome… which “all roads lead”, according to the 20th Rome Marathon T shirt and day sac which I earned with my sweat and stiff legs – along with a heavy, rather Futurist/Fascist style medal, pictured below.


Before and after the run, we queued and filed past/through all the compulsory tourist sites, starting with the Sistine Chapel.


I’ve written many times about Michelangelo in this blog, notably my theory that Shakespeare was his reincarnation (conclusive proof in Blackpaint 217) and, perhaps less controversial, the fact that “Michelangelo doesn’t do trees” (Blackpaint 112).  The tree in the pic below is pretty much the sole exception.  The ceiling, lower than I expected, was, of course, fabulous; but it was amusing to see the two opportunities for censorship that had been missed by the various popes and officials down through the ages – especially since some loincloths were added to male figures:

Briefly, there is the famous proximity of Eve’s face to Adam’s penis in the Temptation panel-

eve sistine

And the snake sucking – or eating -Minos’ penis in the bottom right of the altar piece (shades of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan”).  Minos was a portrait of Biagio, the Papal master of ceremonies, who had been rude about the “lascivious” paintings, so the snake was Mick’s revenge.

penis sistine


While I was pointing these features out to my companions, a grey-suited official continually repeated, in an irritated, but defeated tone, “No Talking!! No Photo!! SHH! SHH!”, occasionally lunging forward to try to block some miscreant taking a photo on his mobile phone.

Bought a 10 Euro poster of the Delphic Sybil and noted again the decisively male musculature of those arms, which in no way detracts from the beauty of the face:

sybil sistine


Apart from the Michelangelo Pieta, which is now behind glass, there is some great statuary that I was unable to find much about on web:

There is a standing saint, pointing a finger in the manner of a Parmagianino painting, with that crook in the middle and the long neck – it’s St.Elijah, by one Agostino Cornacchini

st elijah

There is a fantastic St.Andrew, bearing a rough old saltire on his muscular back, by Francois Duquesnoy

st andrew

St. Bruno, not filling his pipe, but recoiling inexplicably from a child reaching up towards him; it’s by Michelangelo Slodtz (?)

st bruno


A tableau from which the figure of Time, a skeleton with an hourglass, emerges – or rather, is slipping out from under a sheet.  Couldn’t find this one.

OK, enough from Rome for now; more next blog.

The Great War in Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

Free exhibition, about 30 – 40 minutes worth; several good paintings, among them this Sickert



which has a coruscating surface, impossible to see in the above – and the well-known yellow Kirchner, with the imaginary severed hand.  There is that great Isaac Rosenberg self-portrait


and a drawing by Max Beckmann, very much in the Grosz street mode.  Some fascinating photographs too.

Coming Up for Air

I can’t read enough Orwell at the moment, having plunged in with Burmese Days a few weeks ago; I’ve read everything he wrote and everything about him (apart from the Taylor biog), some of it three or four times, but I’m still getting the odd surprise.  I’d forgotten, for example, that “Air” contains a dry run for the Two Minute Hate in “1984”; Orwell’s protagonist George Bowling is attending an talk by a well-known “anti – fascist”, as the speaker is introduced.  Interesting that the tirade of hate-filled cliches is being delivered by an ANTI -fascist, given Orwell’s politics…

Italian TV

We could do with the “Singing and Dancing” channels over here, to dilute the endless flow of high level intellectual and cultural output we are subject to in the UK; I blame the BBC.  Also, we need more shopping channels and spy films from the 60s.  There was one British film, in which Peter Sellers starred as a priest who went up in a rocket ship – I think he hijacked it – must look it up.

No proper paintings done in last few weeks, so a couple of life studies to compare with the Michelangelos above:







Blackpaint 436 – Hockney, Orwell, Beatings and Orgasms

February 28, 2014

Hockney Prints at Dulwich Picture Gallery

This is a great exhibition; loads of prints extending through several rooms.  I liked the earliest stuff from the 60s the best – “The Rake’s Progress” series on his first time in America.  In these, he’s doing those cartoon figures, reminiscent of people like Barry Fantoni; he likes fire, which pops up in several etchings, a chair burning, for instance; in fact, the red of the fire the only colour in these, apart from blue on the US flag in one, I think.

Next, he does a series based on Cavafy poems, in which the figures are no longer “cartoons” but beautifully spare, single line renditions of (usually)naked young men.  I guess from the perfection of outline, he must have selected the etching line from a number of pentimenti in a drawing, like the one of Celia Birtwell below.

Plenty more; flowers, portraits, swimming pools…  The one immediately below with the columns, trees, garden, and distorted perspective is from the latter part of the exhibition.  The colours are recognisable from his big show at the RA a couple of years ago.

Hockney Dulwich 1

hockney dulwich 2

Newsnight – the Harriet Harman interview

An innovation on Newsnight after Laura Kuenssberg pursued Harman with the Daily Mail agenda, trying to force her to apologise for being an officer of the NCCL at a time when the Paedophile Information Exchange was an affiliate to the organisation.  After the interview was shown, Jeremy Paxman, full of his usual self-regard, and Kuenssberg, still fizzing with righteous indignation, discussed Harman’s performance like sports pundits, so that the viewers didn’t have to make up their minds unaided.  I wonder if this will be a regular event whenever the press demands apologies from Labour grandees for misdeeds 30 years before.

The Hunters, Angelopoulos

A group of hunters in the snow (Brueghel again) come across the body of a revolutionary fighter from the Greek Civil War.  It’s the 60s – the war ended in 1949, but the body’s wounds are fresh.  The hunters and their companions all have guilty pasts which are revealed, as the police examine them, the body on a table in the room…  All the usual Angelopoulos magic, the mountains, the music,  the operatic scenes – but additionally, in this film, a fully-dressed actress acts a drawn-out orgasm on a ballroom floor before a large audience, who applaud politely after the climax.  Shades of Bunuel.  Later, a portly hunter, dressed in a satin Father Christmas outfit, dances rather formally with his bobble hat – shades of Bela Tarr.

Orwell  – Such, Such Were the Joys and 1984

In the Guardian last week, Sam Leith wrote about the famous Orwell essay, describing it as “a load of bollocks”.  In the essay, Orwell recalls his time at St. Cyprian’s, a prep school near Eastbourne in the years before World War One.  It includes a description of Orwell’s (or Blair’s) beatings for wetting the bed, the second of which was carried out with a riding crop which broke, as a result of the headmaster’s exertions.  There are many other examples of abuse and privation, and Leith quotes another critic, who says the essay is drenched with self-pity.

This is odd, since Orwell expressly states that he didn’t feel especially picked out for mistreatment and in fact, regarded his beatings and the rest as his own fault; as a child, he had accepted the guilt which “Sambo” and “Flip”, the headmaster and his wife, allotted to him: “Now look what you’ve done!”, as Sambo yells at him when the riding crop breaks.  One of the themes of the essay is how the pupils accept the system and internalise it.  Not surprising then that his letters home contain no hint of discontent, or that his contemporaries (Leith cites Jacintha Buddicom) say he seemed happy enough.

Anyway, Bernard Crick dealt at length with all this in his 1981 biography of Orwell – he’s not mentioned by Leith.  One thing that is interesting; Leith rejects the Anthony West theory that “1984” was Orwell’s prep school miseries writ large- he does suggest, much more plausibly, that his political analysis worked back on “Such, Such..”.  Crick thinks that Orwell exaggerated and shaped his “memories” for literary, maybe political, purposes;  to state baldly that Orwell’s reminiscences are “a load of bollocks” is surely going a bit strong, though.

The Drawing Room, Abstract Drawings

Tucked away in an old industrial building in Bermondsey, there are some startling names on show here; Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, Anish Kapoor, Tomma Abts, Alison Wilding, Sol LeWitt, Serra…  They are mostly small, geometrical, several on graph paper.  The Pollock is funny, because it is “fenced off” by a single wire barrier to emphasise status, presumably.  It’s not a great Pollock…  The best works are those by Hesse, John Golding, and Garth Evans (see below); like Oiticica, but not as wobbly.

garth evans

Come and see (maybe buy) my paintings at Sprout Gallery, Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 between  4th and 15th March – open every day, including Sunday, 11.00am – 5.00pm.


Work in Prog



Blackpaint 434 – Creed; the Piles, the Cacti and the Suspense

February 14, 2014

Hayward Gallery – Martin Creed, “What’s the Point of it?”

This was reviewed on the Review Show (BBC2) and was described as “joyous” by Paul Morley; the others agreed.  I was astounded to hear that music was part of the exhibition, in the form of several soundtrack items – I was totally unaware of this; just didn’t notice it, I suppose.  In fact, the reviewers mentioned a number of items I missed; as always, sounded as if they were at a different show.

It’s packed with exhibits, mostly numbered not named – here’s my list, with the occasional comment:

  • Swinging “MOTHERS” sign, nearly skimming the head, if your as tall as me (6ft 4in)
  • Diminishing, or growing, stacks/lines of cacti, chairs, tables, planks, boxes, girders

creed cacti

  • Pictures of stepped pyramids and staircases

Creed pile

  • Stripe paintings on walls (horizontal, vertical, diagonal,  criss-crossed…)
  • Film of rather small erect penis, gradually diminishing, on terrace
  • Pointed tower of LEGO
  • Rough portraits, duff portraits, freely painted, multi – colour abstracts (small)
  • Metal nozzles, protuberances and er – intuberances (?) like bathroom fittings
  • smooth white breast-shaped swellings, “growing” from wall
  • Dark piano, each key of which sounded at intervals by attendant
  • White piano, lid opening and crashing shut automatically at regular intervals
  • Door, opening and closing
  • Car, bonnet, doors and boot of which opening and shutting, lights on and off, regular intervals
  • Line of metronomes, out of sync (when we were there, anyway)
  • 1000 differently coloured and framed prints of a broccoli “tree”
  •  A load of balls (tennis, basketball, football, etc.)
  • Little ticky-tacky paint and tape pictures, quite nice
  • Video of two dogs, wolf hound and chihuahua, wandering about and pursued by men
  • Video of a young man and young woman, walking on into a white space and being sick on the floor.  The man is first, and accomplishes his puking with something of a swagger; hands on hips, I think.  The woman, however, outdoes him with about six consecutive large sploshes of thin red winey vomit – couple of bottles’ worth, I should think.  Well done!
  • Separating the two vomits is a sequence in which a young woman comes on, hitches her dress up, squats down and proceeds to have a shit.  This is quite tense, as at first, she only manages a couple of little pellets.  She grunts a bit; obviously she thinks there is more to come.  I got a little annoyed at this point when a young couple came and stood in front of me – didn’t want to miss anything…. and then there it was – curling out slowly and finally achieving separation.  She stands and walks off; job done.

In the leaflet, it says “horrible vomit” becomes a form of painting, and shit – the first solid thing that any of us makes – is sculpture”.  This reminds me of the David Foster Wallace story of the man who shits out fully-formed “sculptures” like portrait busts of celebrities…

Saatchi Gallery – Body Language (cont.)

Couple more painters worth a mention in the above exhibition:

Dana Schutz

dana schutz picnic

This one’s called “burnt Picnic”, I think;

And Andra Ursuta

“Vandal Lust”, a fantastical trebuchet (catapult) thing – sort of ramshackle Anish Kapoor, not working – with a couple of flattened, smashed bodies lying around, one of which appears to have been propelled into a wall, going by the damage to the plaster.

Denis Tarasov‘s Russian and Ukrainian gravestone C prints, showing the dead in their lives with their cars, cigars and champagne are worth mentioning too.

Days of 36, Angelopoulos (1974)

Made under the “Colonels’ ” regime in Greece, on a tight budget, this story of a jail hostage taking and the political intrigue behind the scenes is difficult to follow at times; whose is the body fished out of the sea, for example?  It does, however, have a scene which anticipates “The Shawshank Redemption”; music (a tango, it sounds like) is played in the compound – the inmates crowd the windows of the cells, overcome with emotion…

Burmese Days 

Re-reading Orwell’s book to compare it to Forster’s Passage to India.  Orwell’s is much more forceful, more angry, the language of the British violent and racially abusive; maybe it’s the 10 years’ difference between the books, as well as Orwell’s more radical (?)political outlook..  A couple of scornful remarks about Jews and homosexual scoutmasters from Flory, Orwell’s “hero” (sort of)…



Garden House